Sargent BOE reviews test results

MONTE VISTA—The Sargent School District Board of Education met for their monthly meeting last Monday, June 25. The board approved hiring of elementary school teachers, reviewed test results, discussed transportation updates with the new director and passed the preliminary budget for the 2018-2019 school year.

As the CMAS testing results are not available yet, Elementary Principal Joni Hemmerling presented the Renaissance reading and math results to the board, noting all of the elementary students from kindergarten through sixth grade grew 1.1 grade levels in reading skills for the 2017-2018 school year, with a scaled score growth of 129 compared the 2016-2017 school year where their scaled score growth was 114 points. The Renaissance math scores were not quite as positive with the kindergarten through sixth graders earning a scaled score growth of 94 points in the 2017-2018 school year compared to the growth of 106 points in the 2016-2017 school year.

Junior/Senior High School Principal Ronna Cochran also presented on the PSAT and SAT results from the 2017-2018 school year. The 11th graders had a mean total score of 955 with the benchmark score of 970. Their reading scores were 495 with a bench score of 460 but their math scores were 460 compared to the bench score of 510. Compared to their scores from the previous year, the 11th graders showed significant improvement over the mean score of 902 with 474 in reading and 428 in math. The 10th graders scored a mean of 986 with a bench score of 910, with a 504 in reading and a 538 in math. The eighth and ninth graders had a mean score of 866 with a bench score of 860 with a 499 in reading, 89 points higher than the bench, and a 410 in math with a 450 bench.

Cochran pointed out the difficulty many students have with the math testing. Board Secretary Tyler Mitchell acknowledged this was an issue nationwide but asked “What can we do to not struggle?” and inquired about how recent the math curriculum was implemented.

Cochran explained it was implemented two to three years prior and all of the math instructors seem to enjoy it.

Both principals noted they expected consistent improvement over the coming years but expressed some frustration with changing math teachers, which will happen again for coming school year, but one of the incoming teachers has 42 years’ of experience.

Superintendent Greg Slover noted “not every kid thinks mathematically” which is how the tests are set up. Mitchell acknowledged math “is the hardest subject to teach… but math doesn’t change” noting the same skills are focused on every year in testing.

Board Vice President Gina Mitchell, also a psychology professor at Adams State University, noted research shows children’s brains are primed at certain ages for some mathematic concepts and if that concept is not fulfilled they can often invent their own explanations, which when taught the correct concept, have to be unlearned. She noted it would be most effective to make sure the curriculum is matching up to these psychological steps to help with math skills and retention, “If we can get better at teaching concepts, when the brain is ready it might be easier.”

During the superintendent’s report, Slover introduced new Transportation Director Rebecca Sykes, who explained she serves on three relevant state boards including the CSPTA Special Needs Committee and Trainer Committee as well as the CDE Transportation Advisory Committee. Sykes explained she has helped design regulations and trainings for these committees and is currently training new drivers for the Sargent District. She will be attending in-services including one for special needs drivers that will involve 22 different school districts and the all-Valley transportation in-service on Aug. 1. “I’m happy to be here and happy to be working with you,” Sykes stated. She later explained she is evaluating apps the school district can utilize, “to close the gap” between the aging fleet and the technological advances of transportation. The apps, one of which will scan student IDs, will track which students are on which bus as well as the buses’ whereabouts, notifying parents if buses are delayed on their routes and by approximately how long, to “take the guesswork out” for parents waiting to pick their children up. The apps will also include means of reporting technical problems to the district, like tires going out or mechanical problems encountered on trips. Sykes is also looking at other ways to make the fleet more efficient, including attending a Bluebird presentation on propane buses in August.

The board also reviewed some initial survey results and data points on their first school year in the four-day week model. Slover noted the DAC survey had a variety of comments for the board to review. There were more absences in August 2017 and January 2018 than in the previous school year. There was also more tardiness in the high school and more elementary absences overall as well. The principals noted there was a lot of illness going around, especially in the months in question for teacher absences, to consider as a factor as well. The board also discussed their Friday activities, which they attempted quarterly in the first and second quarters with half-day activities but had to cancel the second due to lack of interest. The board and the principals will continue looking at ways to incorporate those in the most effective and functional ways for both student interest and parent convenience.

The board approved the budget for the 2018-2019 school year that was presented by Business Manager Rebecca Quintana. Quintana created a projection that included a four student decrease. Gina Mitchell was the only vote against it, after voicing frustration that pay increases beyond the step increases for the transportation staff were not included, which she had suggested at the May meeting. The board had also met for a budget work session between the two meetings as well. Quintana explained she also did not receive a pay increase, nor did the school nurse and Slover added it was his understanding they covered as many of the transportation staff as possible in the last round of raises the district approved.

During the meeting debriefing Gina Mitchell also inquired why the board has not had any policy reviews in recent meetings, with Slover and Superintendent Administrative Assistant Lynda Foster explaining the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) usually notifies the districts when legislative or other legal changes have been made at the state or federal level that require the board to review or alter their policies accordingly. Otherwise policy matters are addressed as they come up. Mitchell stated the board should consider it their directive to make sure the district’s policies are reviewed regularly and modern, noting she recently spoke with a family taking their children out of the district who told her compared to other districts Sargent “is like a 1950s’ school,” with no other clarification. Mitchell noted reviewing policy is the most direct way the board can do their part in keeping the education students receive modern and effective.

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